Day 3 was an overwhelming day for all of us to say the least - there were so many mixed emotions, filled with so many overwhelming highlights, it's difficult to comprehend, let alone know where to begin... Standing up and singing our national anthem among the Dutch and Canadian citizens who had travelled from all over to be here, feeling of the spitfire that roared over our heads at just the perfect moment...the children who swarmed around our veterans - their heroes - hugging them and thanking them for what they had done long before their time for a chance at a better life over three generations later, the helicopter that soared over us dropping poppies by the thousands, the pipe bands from all across Canada marching and playing together in unision as our veterans Frank & Bud danced in the middle while waiting for our coaches to turn up - everything about today will truly last in our memories for a life time.
The Commemoration at the Canadian Military Cemetery in Holten
Glenn tried to prepare us for what we would see on our drive through Holten. The houses down the road had their Canadian flags proudly hoisted, some with posters and signs marking their love for our country and our people. That, in and of itself was a delight for us to see. Glenn spoke first of the CWGC, the commission especially set up by the commonwealth to organize and maintain the 23,000 cemeteries holding the 1.7 million war dead in over 153 countries. The Holten Canadian Military Cemetery is a staggeringly beautiful example of the tremendous effort put forth by the
Glenn emphasized everything that the CWGC strives to accomplish in the 100 years it has lended its service and explained just how massive the entire operation was to keep these cemeteries immaculate - their mission being to never let any of them fall upon neglect. Over $15 million is required to keep each and every cemetery in the pristine condition of which they are in - 10% of the funds are provided by Canada. Each headstone must be a permanent placement, stating the name & uniform of each fallen soldier, regardless of race, creed, or military rank.
The cleaning and maintencance is meticulous - the architecture is awe inspiring, and 100 dedicated employees see to it that it stays that way. Filling of the soil, trimming the grass to the exact measurements required...you can follow the headstones exactly and notice the striking white rows, with a perfect curve set in exactly the same place of each grave. With the bustling of all the buses, people of all outfits, uniforms...pipe bands, and school children, you may have thought we too were caught up in the excitement - and we were - until we got to the entrance of Holten. It was then, that many of us stood in awe. Glenn was right. We needed to be prepared.
A few graves we visited before the ceremony
Glenn wanted to pay a special visit to a few graves - the first one he took us to was that of Omer Vincent. Glenn originally had met Omer's family who didn't have to tell Glenn what kind of pain and grief they had suffered when Omer, who was shot just a mere few weeks before the end of the war, on April 13th 1945 - tragically, it had been his birthday.
Omer was the youngest of 11 brothers and sister, who had left for the war at the age of 19. After surviving throughout the entirety, he had been shot while attempting to capture a German gun post, a volunteer mission, one Bella says, he had chosen to do. Bella, his sister, had recieved the telegram, and Glenn, after meeting Bella, honoured her by visiting his grave whenever he travels with us. She had only been 12 years old at the time, but had read the news first.
Upon her return home, pondering how she would tell her mother, she learned quickly that she didn't have to...upon looking at her daughters face, her mother had already known. That had started a cry she had never heard before, one so heartbreaking that weeks later, when it ceased to stop, Bella, only 12 years old had to leave home, staying with friends, unable to take the constant howls of pain and suffering, a sobbing her mother couldn't control.
Bella showed Glenn two phtograph's when she had met him - one of a woman, a shocking resemblance to Bella - this was indeed her mother. The other however, was a completely different woman - with hair like straw, an ashen face, and a body that had taken on too much. Bella confirmed that it was still her mother, a picture taken only a mere fews weeks before and after they had recieved the telegraph.
After telling us that, Glenn looks out, and we look with him at the 1300 more graves. Just how many other mothers, wives, sisters...how many of them suffered from the same devestating grief. ___________________________________________________________________
(Picture Below: The telegram Bella had recieved)